Understanding Basic Electrical Terms

Co-Founder Bryan Orr gives an easy illustration to help you understand some basic electrical terms. He talks about amps, ohms, and watts and what they measure. He also simplifies them with real-world examples that anyone can understand.

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Links and Items Mentioned In This Video
  • Voltage
  • Amperage
  • Wattage
Transcript

I want to try to define some electrical terms you hear a lot in a very simplistic way.

You’ll hear the terms amp, volt, ohm, and watt. It’s important to understand the difference between the four of them. If you’re not going to understand anything else, it’s important to recognize that in most cases, when people are talking about electricity, they almost always use the terms amp, volt, and watt interchangeably. They’re just saying, “It’s electricity.” But really, these electrical terms represent completely different concepts–completely different explanations of what’s happening with electricity or electron flow.

Okay, so first, I like to talk about these terms using an analogy of a highway. Think of a wire or a conductor like a highway. If I were to stand on the side of a highway that’s in rush hour traffic and I were to take a picture, it would just be a still shot. I’d look at it and see all of these cars lined up, and I say to someone, “Look at that. That’s a busy road. There are a lot of cars on that road.”

They’ll say, “Wow. There are a lot of cars on that road.” But all that I’m doing is showing a still photo; those cars may not be moving at all, maybe just been sitting there. They may sit there for hours. Think of the cars on the road like amperage. We’re saying that this is how many cars there are at this moment, a snapshot. It has nothing to do with how fast there are moving.

In the same way, I could talk about voltage, and I could go there at 2 am and see a guy on a Kawasaki Ninja going really fast. I could say, “Wow! This road is busy because there’s a really fast guy on this road.” But that might not be accurate either. It may just not be busy. It’s just maybe little one guy in this Kawasaki Ninja going awesomely fast.

So, neither really gives you the whole picture. One is telling us how fast the car is going. The other is asking how many cars are there at a given moment on the road. So, how many cars are there and how fast are they going? It’s a really unscientific explanation, but it works as a way to kind of help us think about what we’re talking about.

So, when we say voltage and amperage, what we’re really saying is that velocity and force are voltage. Quantity of electrons, that’s amperage. Wattage is a measure combining the two. How many cars AND how fast are they going? So, you could say something like, “Wattage should measure the number of cars that are passing this point per minute.” That would be a way of explaining what wattage is. It’s an overall picture of how many electrons are being moved over a period of time.

Thanks for watching!

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